The Gladys Prior Awards for Career Teaching Excellence are among the largest monetary awards for teachers in the nation. Gilchrist Berg, founder and president of a Jacksonville investment company, established the awards in 1998 to honor his 4th grade teacher at Ortega Elementary School, Gladys Prior. In addition, Mr. Berg honored his 6th grade teacher, Gladys Roddenberry, by naming five UNF graduate scholarships after her. Mr. Berg has pledged over $2,000,000 to continue these awards for Duval County public and private school teachers.
“Teachers are one of our most important assets. We simply don’t do enough to remind ourselves of their great influence on us every day of our life. Maybe in some small way, these awards will cause others to reflect on the great contributions teachers have made to their lives and the life of their families.”Gilchrist Berg
“Teachers are one of our most important assets. We simply don’t do enough to remind ourselves of their great influence on us every day of our life. Maybe in some small way, these awards will cause others to reflect on the great contributions teachers have made to their lives and the life of their families.”Gilchrist Berg
Learn more about nominations for the current award.
Patrice HauptPaxon School for Advanced Studies High School Language Arts / AP Literature
Paxon School teacher, Patrice Haupt, believes each student is a unique individual who needs a secure, loving and inviting atmosphere in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, socially and physically. Megan Mendez writes, “There are many things I could tell you about Mrs. Haupt. Above all, I want you to know about the compassion and understanding she shows to every child she encounters. We were not just her students; we were always her children. She didn’t accept the bare minimum from any of us because she always saw the potential each and everyone of us had.”Mrs. Haupt was inspired by the learning challenges of her son to become a teacher. That inspiration sustains her desire to be a better teacher everyday for those students who struggle and may feel forgotten. Former colleague, Sarah Axelrod, writes “She is still in the lives of the students she has taught, some of whom are in their own classrooms now.”Mrs. Haupt, previously a Barnes and Noble Teacher of the Year, hopes to enroll in a doctoral program. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Haupt would like to focus her work and scholarship on those students who are the first generation in their families to apply to, enter and successfully navigate higher education.
Alicia HendersonAssumption Catholic SchoolLanguage Arts, Grade 8
Mrs. Henderson’s role model was her aunt, Barbara Green, who taught special education for 35 years and was herself a Gladys Prior Award recipient in 2010. With this inspiration in mind, Mrs. Henderson believes that it is important to gain the trust and respect of students while developing a relationship with them. She enjoys helping young people realize how much they are capable of, not only in the classroom, but in life.Along with being a language arts teacher, Mrs. Henderson serves as the cross-country coach. Parent Jennifer White writes, “Of my five children, some love to run, but aren’t superfast, some love to run and are fast and getting faster, and some don’t love it, aren’t fast, but know it’s good for them. They love Mrs. Henderson because she is always encouraging and supporting.” This attention to the individual is also evident in the classroom. Colleague Tina Amico writes, “The story seems the same each August. A good number of students enter Alicia’s classroom with little or no interest in reading, either due to lack of interest or low reading level. This is where Alicia grabs hold of the reins and takes over, starting to work her magic on these unsuspecting adolescents.” Mrs. Henderson’s goal in life is to continue to inspire children to love reading and writing.
Larry J. Knight, Jr.Stanton College Preparatory SchoolHigh School Language Arts
Larry J. Knight, Jr. teaches in order to enlighten his students, affect their moral, social and intellectual growth, and to help transform society through education. His teaching is informed by the philosophy that good instruction speaks directly to the learning needs of students. Former student, Manya Goldstein, speaks to Mr. Knight’s commitment to both the student and the betterment of society when she describes him as the “watchful advisor” to the award winning Stanton newspaper, the Devil’s Advocate. The success of the Devil’s Advocate under Mr. Knight’s guidance is the result of hard work and high expectations as described by student Valerie Starks, “I vividly remember submitting countless drafts of my work prior to receiving a ‘P’ (for publishable).” Valerie goes on to say, “He treats all people with tolerance and dignity, earning the respect of Stantonians everywhere.”As a career teacher of 19 years, Mr. Knight’s awards and recognitions are abundant. In addition to the Gladys Prior award, Mr. Knight is this year’s Stanton College Preparatory School’s Teacher of the Year. Mr. Knight’s goals include continuing to hone his craft as an educator and to complete his doctoral degree, anticipated in 2018.
James L. MillerLaVilla School of the Arts Social Studies / U.S. History, Grade 8
Mr. James Miller comes from a long line of educators to include two siblings who are also teachers. While noting that there might be something “akin to a teaching gene” when speaking of family influence, Mr. Miller also points to Mr. Mike Ridell, his history teacher at Lee High School, as someone who inspired him as “the most difficult, demanding and best teacher I have ever known.”As a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, Mr. Miller has been previously recognized as the St. Johns River Water Management Environmental Educator of the Year, the William M. Raines High School Teacher of the Year and the Duval County Region I Teacher of the Year. By all accounts, Mr. Miller is an infectious story teller who weaves maps, images, film clips and even his love of gardening into his “war” against the notion that “history is boring.” Former student Jayleen Cerda is “reminded by his words to never stop seeking the truth.” Mr. Miller considers teaching to be “one of the highest forms of public service-one that I am glad to partake in for the betterment of my students and our community.”
Susan Wright Harper
Tiger AcademyKindergarten TeacherTiger Academy teacher Susan Harper wants to provide all children the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential as confident and lifelong learners. For her former students, she has far surpassed this aim! Nia Atcherson said, “I met Ms. Harper and something started to spark inside me. Ms. Harper is determined, intelligent and full of optimism.” Colleague Alisha Goins described her class as a rich and literacy-filled environment that engulfs the students every minute of their days. Ms. Harper is driven by the needs and directions of her students, and she demands their highest levels of performance. Parent Cheryl Quarles-Gaston, who is also a principal explained that Ms. Harper recognizes that her students are from communities with poverty, crime, and family instability; however, she refuses to accept all but students’ highest performance. Principal Charles McWhite wrote, “Her classroom is characterized by high levels of student energy and teacher passion. The engagement level and academic performance of her predominantly inner-city kindergarten students is simply astounding.” Ms. Harper is the 3-time recipient of school’s Teacher of the Year. She has been teaching and nurturing students for 41 years in warm and learning environments. Her teaching techniques have been demonstrated in a number of videos and articles.
Duncan Fletcher Middle SchoolGifted Program, Mathematics (Geometry)“If I can be that role model of positivity and show my students anything can be done, Geometry class becomes a piece of cake.” Mark McGiveron uses this notion when he describes his battle with leukemia, the challenges he experienced, and how he approached this battle. Former student Katlyn McCain is majoring in education because of Mr. McGiveron’s impact on her life. “I remember many times staying late where he would help you with homework, try teaching the objectives in a different way, a way that you better understood.” Along with athletic coaching in high school and being nominated for Coach of the Year, Mr. McGiveron coaches the Math Counts Team, a group that consistently has garnered awards in competitions and has resulted in a National Gold Level School Status for Fletcher MS. Principal Teresa Mowbray reported that Mr. McGiveron students hold the Duval County School record for the highest percentage of students to pass the End-of-Course Exam in Geometry with percentages from 97 to 100%. He has been named the Teacher of the Year at Fletcher MS four times. Mr. McGiveron is inspired by his late mother, Karin McGiveron, who dedicated 33 years teaching 5th grade in Warwick, RI. His mother’s legacy will assist him as he assures students that they matter and that they are equipped to face any obstacle in their paths.
Judith McMillen Reppert
Martin J. Gottlieb Day SchoolMiddle School Social Studies/Civics Grades 6, 7, & 8Judith McMillen Reppert asserts that classrooms should be a microcosm of society at its best and a place to develop individual curiosity, creativity, and future joyful passions. According to colleague Susann Turner, “She inspires her students to strive for the excitement of learning that she possesses. When Judy is discussed, words like dedicated, loving, caring, unforgettable, ‘best thing ever,’ admired, and respected often surface.” Ms. Reppert creates memorable learning and is an ardent believer in hands-on learning. In activities that include caveman dinners, elections, battles, or leaders, students achieve authentic learning experiences. Former student Max Goldstein stated, “It was the stories, how they linked together and felt real…There were people, reasons, events, cause and effect, and no shortage of political intrigue, whether in ancient Egypt or the Civil War.” As a career teacher of 46 years, Ms. Reppert champions her parents and 7th grade history teacher Miss Shultz. As recipient of the Brit Hinukh Covenant of Education Award and Rabbi Gaffney Leadership in Education Award, Ms. Reppert continues to create engaging experiences by developing partnerships with students and encouraging student ownership in the learning process.
Scott Sowell, Ph.D.
Darnell Cookman Middle/High SchoolAdvanced Placement Environmental ScienceSenior Seminar Capstone ResearchDr. Scott Sowell believes “we teach as we were taught,” and he credits his teaching success from teachers and mentors that include his mother Margaret Sowell and previous Gladys Prior recipients Jacki Simms and Kathy Poe. Dr. Sowell has taken the mantle of mentorship forward to his teaching colleagues, and more importantly, his students. According to his principal, Carol Daniels, Dr. Sowell “consistently demonstrates the attributes of the quintessential teacher.” As the 2012 Duval County Teacher of the Year and a member of the inaugural class of Leadership in Education, Dr. Sowell orchestrates learning that is built upon students’ everyday lives in order to make science livable, meaningful, and purposeful. His colleague, Gayle Fiser reports he is constantly seeking new learning experiences and techniques to deliver meaningful information to his students. Because of his motivating efforts, a host of his students have been inspired to continue their educational pursuits in science; Kaitlyn Rullow and Matthew Braden credit Dr. Sowell for their decisions to major in coastal biology. As Dr. Sowell articulated, “I understand that being a teacher is about shaping the current lives and future identities of students, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”
Bishop Kenny High School
AP Language, Speech, and Debate
English Department Chair
Bishop Kenny High School teacher Valerie Doner experiences a thrill “each time the bell ushers in a new group of students.” As a teacher of 37 years, she believes education is alive. “I have interacted with so many truly exceptional people—students, parents, teachers, and administrators—that my life has been very rich. Some think this is a thankless job: I beg to differ. I am thankful for every year that I have had in the classroom…”Inspired by her high school English teacher, Esther Johnson and ultimate hero of all time, Samuel Johnson, L.L.D., Valerie has forwarded this inspiration and shared her expertise with students who routinely come back to express their appreciation to her. Assistant Academic Dean Laura Yocum recounts that former students make a point to stop by the school to personally thank Valerie for teaching them, for believing in them, and for pushing them to realize their potential and reach for the proverbial stars. Former student and University of Central Florida professor, Dr. Peter Sinelli states that without Valerie as his English teacher, speech and debate coach, theatre director and dedicated mentor, he could not imagine that his life would have turned out as it has.
Mandarin Oaks Elementary School5th grade Mathematics
Tim Kenney believes he “inherited” the family business of teaching from his educator parents, and he relates that from an early age, he witnessed the impact of teachers in both the classroom and community. He carries that impact forward to his students daily. Ashley, one of his students describes Tim as an “amazing, awesome, spectacular, and not so boring teacher because he wanted this job for a reason….to see all of our beautiful faces and smiles.” As a teacher with 13 years of experience, Tim has garnered impressive awards that include the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching, UNF Outstanding Alumnus Award, and he has been the recipient of several teaching fellowships. Tim also is the first Gladys Roddenberry Fellow to be awarded the Gladys Prior Award. His principal, Patricia Carson relates that “Tim believes that by creating a classroom climate where students feel respected and supported, he builds a foundation of trust and self-confidence. He also believes that by making learning interesting and fun, he can engage his students and get them excited about learning.”
The Bolles SchoolHonors Contemporary World HistoryAP European HistoryHistory teacher Cormac O’Riordan is passionate! Scott Smith, Associate Head/Academic Dean of The Bolles School describes Cormac as passionate about teaching, history, learning how to think, developing integrity, modeling maximum effort, and showing respect for diverse opinions. As a veteran teacher of 19 years, Cormac states, “I can’t imagine a better job than introducing students to historical periods, people and events, and together analyzing why studying history is essential to our responsibilities as citizens in a liberal democracy.” Parents Michael and Jill Abel conveyed that Cormac is highly skilled in offering sustained inspiration to students while instilling a passion for history that causes students to analyze diverse and interesting perspectives. As the son of an elementary teacher in Ireland, Cormac attributes his love for teaching to his mother and other exemplary teachers at The Bolles School. Cormac has been the recipient of The Dewan Teaching Fellow Award in 2006 and 2014, and the Edward E. Ford Merit Award in 1999, 2002, and 2009.
James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School8th grade Language Arts (self-contained gifted)Mollie Peterson teaches 8th grade Language Arts at James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School, and she has taught eleven years at this school. Mollie believes her classroom should be a place that sparks and fosters curiosity, discovery, and creativity, as well as a place that teaches students to consider others’ points of view. “I host 130 students every two days and I aim to create a place that harkens back to the salons of Paris where we refine our thinking through reading, writing, and discussion; where we learn to respect and love each other because we share a common compassion.” Mollie’s role model, friend, and teacher is her mother, Mary Browning. Mollie credits her mother for coaching her to make students feel comfortable in their school “homes” by serving them and caring deeply about them. Mollie’s techniques pay off reports student Aditi Anna. “She always encourages her students which is really good if you’re ever feeling down on a day, you know she’ll bring your hopes up.” Principal Sharwonda Peek respects Mollie for the manner in which she knows each of her students on an individual level. Mollie is the first Gladys Prior recipient at James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School.
IB Prep and AP Chemistry
Paxon School for Advanced Studies
Victor Sciullo teaches IB Prep and AP chemistry at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. To ensure the academic success of his students, he created a database of his lectures and tutors outside of class. Victor weaves life’s lessons into his teaching and reaches students who previously had little or no interest in science. He tells students to remember that life is like a hallway. Along the hallway are open doors. When you start to make decisions some doors open and others close. Don’t let those doors close. Make sure they stay open by keeping your goals in sight. Victor doesn’t just teach chemistry; he teaches the whole student.
AP/AICE English/Language Arts
Mandarin High School
Katherine Nesselrode, a 27 year veteran, teaches AP/AICE English Language Arts at Mandarin High School. Kathy never gives up on students no matter how much they are struggling or slacking because she believes all her students are capable of success. Her mantra to her students is: “You will not fail my class” and she goes above and beyond to be sure they do it, staying long after the school day ends to mentor her students to success. She expects excellence and she gets it.
Eric A. Jackson
5th Grade Math and Science
Atlantic Beach Elementary School
Eric Jackson teaches 5th grade math and science at Atlantic Beach Elementary School. His 14 year career started at S.A. Hull Elementary where he was recognized for his excellence as a teacher of urban children. He spent two years as a district level math coach but missed teaching his own students so he returned to the classroom. His nominator said, “Anyone can sympathize, shake their heads, and move on when students do not perform to their potential, but every now and then we are granted the privilege of knowing a compassionate teacher who is moved to do something about it. Mr. Jackson is such a teacher. He has such a contagious spirit and such relentless determination and the results are students who believe they can fly, and they do.” A parent said, “Mr. Jackson isn’t just teaching math and science, he is developing thinkers.” Her two children have become excellent math students as a result of Eric’s excellent teaching and his willingness to come early and stay late to coach his students.
Exceptional Student Education/ Learning Strategies
Fletcher Middle School
Roberta (Robbie) Knieberg teaches students with varying exceptionalities at Fletcher Middle School where she was once a student. Her former teacher, Ethel Stanton, volunteered in Robbie’s class for ten years. She admired Robbie’s high level of energy, good humor and motivational methods to enliven instruction. One student said that she would never have passed 6th grade without Robbie’s kind, patient help and willingness to listen. The girl’s’ mother reported that Robbie encouraged her daughter to run for (and win) Student Council vice president. Robbie sponsored award winning cheerleading squads for years, an example of her deep involvement in her schools. She created an annual scholarship fund at Fletcher Senior High School called “Cap and Gown” which provides money to five students for senior activities they can’t afford. She saw a need and filled it in honor of her father who never graduated. A teacher for 36 years, Robbie is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Princeton Scholar, and a Fulbright scholar who spent three weeks in Japan.
Art/ 3D/ Sculpture
Atlantic Coast High School
Kelly Delaney teaches art at Atlantic Coast High School where her students excel in competitions and community involvement. A former colleague praises Kelly for welcoming students with disabilities into her classes and opening their minds to creative success. A student supporter appreciates Kelly for helping him adjust to a new school, referring him for scholarships, and involving him with other students in community service projects with the Jacksonville Humane Society, No More Homeless Pets, Hubbard House, Second Harvest Food Bank, and other non-profit organizations.
Exceptional Student Education Inclusion
West Jacksonville Elementary School
Regina Morris teaches exceptional students at West Jacksonville Elementary, the school she went to as a child. Regina has taught students with disabilities for 25 years. She is passionate about including all exceptional students in school-wide activities. Her principal, Robert Gresham, who has worked with her for over twenty years, recalls a field trip where the other teachers were apprehensive about allowing her students with autism to go. One child was a “runner” who would take off, unsupervised. Aided by other students who volunteered to be his buddies, the student enjoyed the trip. A parent of three children with autism credits Regina giving them the love, guidance and instruction that has led two of them to high school graduation this year.
8th Grade Gifted/Advanced English Language Arts
Kirby-Smith Middle School
Shirelle Quaintance teaches 8th grade English Language Arts students at Kirby-Smith Middle School. She’s been teaching for 14 years. She is known as a strict, demanding teacher who cares deeply about her students. Even though her advanced and gifted students are capable of outstanding scholarship, many have life experiences that keep them from academic success. Parents sing her praises, one even admitting she was as nervous as her child about meeting Mrs. Quaintance. As her daughter struggled because of her disabilities, Shirelle was a force to be reckoned with. As she does with all her students, she would not accept failure and would not give up on this student who is now a straight A student in high school.
Jean Ribault High School
Dr. Kelley Ranch teaches Latin at Ribault High School. According to her former principal, Dr. James Young, she played an instrumental role in moving Ribault from an “F” school grade to an “A” in three years. Kelley’s commitment to her school and the surrounding community began when she voluntarily transferred from a high-performing magnet school to teach at Ribault when it was a low-performing school. She lives in the neighborhood and is deeply committed to changing the image of urban schools from failures to successes. Kelley has been a teacher for 28 years.
Elementary School, 3rd Grade
Kim Bloor’s principal needs a classroom for challenging 3rd graders, she knows
just where they need to be - in Ms. Kim’s class where they will be loved into learning.
Kim believes that every child she encounters is a unique, intelligent, special
individual to be unconditionally accepted and loved and held to high
expectations. Through collaborative teamwork, her students Encourage, Perform,
Invite, and Celebrate (EPIC) their daily work. Her students reach their
personal goals and manage their own learning through portfolios and data
collection. Kim encourages parents, guardians, and family members to visit and
actively participate in her classroom. Kim has been teaching 28 years.
Jacksonville Beach Elementary School, 2nd Grade
Science/ Math/Social Studies
has been teaching for 23 years. She
makes learning literally come alive by hatching chicken eggs in her classroom. Parents
and colleagues are sure that some of her award check bought more pig hearts and
owl pellets to dissect. Pam knows that her students need to learn science with
hands-on experiences so she funds the science materials herself. Pam develops a
sense of community in her students by having them create “Boxes of Love” for
Mission House, a beach organization that assists needy people. One parent says
Pam is the gold standard of teaching excellence who consistently goes beyond
expectations to ensure that children learn.
Hendricks Avenue Elementary School, 3rd Grade English Language
Tracy has been teaching for 30 years. She is known at Hendricks
Avenue Elementary as a time magician who seems to fit more into a day that
anyone else. She works before school, after school, and in snatches of time
throughout the day to coach struggling learners. She gives her students no
option to fail. She is a passionate
about teaching children to read. She hopes they will all sneak books under
their covers at night and beg their parents for fifteen more minutes before
turning the light off.
Todd teaches English at
Wolfson High School where he is also the athletic director and soccer coach. He
runs his classes like a sports team and every student knows that success is the
only option. He literally coaches his students to think and achieve success in
his English classes. Former student Joseph Toby was 15 when he came to America
from Sierra Leone. When he was abandoned by his original guardians, Todd found
Joseph a new home and insisted that he take honors English although he was barely
literate. Joseph is now a scholarship soccer player at Flagler College. Joseph
is one of many scholar-athletes who have been inspired and mentored to success
by Todd. A graduate of UNF with 15 years of experience, Todd is a National
Board Certified Teacher.
American Government/AP American Government
Sandalwood High School
Susan Bailey organizes a voter registration drive each year at Sandalwood High school to instill in students their responsibilities as American citizens. Her model is used in other Duval County high schools and has greatly increased voter registration among young adults in Jacksonville. Susan coordinated field trips to both the 2005 and 2009 presidential inaugurations to witness first-hand the lessons taught in her American Government classrooms.
Maria Victoria Schmitt
Chemistry/Advanced Placement Chemistry
Maria Victoria Schmitt (Vicki) has taught chemistry at Bishop Kenny High School for fourteen years. In 2011, she attended the National Science Fair with one of her students who presented his research there. Schmitt connects with all students from the most reluctant to the gifted, challenging them all to do their best. She ensures that her students are successful by tutoring them one-on-one before school. One student said, “Mrs. Schmitt is always available for extra help and takes time to explain individual questions.” Another reported, “Mrs. Schmitt is very patient when I need help with my question.”
Earth Science/Food and Nutrition
Frances Sullivan, who teaches earth science and food and nutrition at Mandarin High School, is an advocate for student athletes. She started by preparing Friday night meals for the football players who lived on the Northside of Jacksonville and could not get home and back in time for the Friday night football games. This activity and her concern for football players losing scholarships because of their grades led to the co-founding of the Adopt-a-Mustang program which pairs each varsity player with a faculty or staff mentor who becomes his on-campus parent.
Visual Arts, Printmaking
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Barry Wilson teaches printmaking, drawing and painting at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts where he involves students in innovative collaborative community art projects. For years he has led the school’s New View partnership with the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. One New View project resulted in a 30 foot mural of the Harlem Renaissance which is on permanent display at the Clara White Mission, one of Jacksonville’s oldest social agencies. Another involved 150 students in a complex year-long study of the St. Johns River to create a mural exhibited at the Cummer Museum, the Main Jacksonville Public Library, and the Ritz Theatre.
Timothy J. Allen
AP Chemistry, Chemistry 1 Honors, and AP Computer Science
Fletcher High School
Tim Allen is famous for his explosions at open house, according to Nancy Broner, School Board Chair and parent of former students. One student from the 70’s remembers Tim’s thermite bombs fondly. “Tim Allen was zany. He made learning fun. He would be writing on the board and when he ran out of space, he’d write on the wall. I loved his News You Can Use at the end of exams where he’d give us helpful hints. I learned so much physics from him that I rarely studied it at the University of Florida and passed. He was also the best math teacher I ever had because he taught me to apply math.”
Barbara Jo Green
Vocational and Career Preparation
Alden Road Exceptional Student Center
Barbara Green, a 35 year veteran, teaches vocational and career preparation to adolescents with disabilities at Alden Road Exceptional Student Center. Barbara’s nominators cited her tireless efforts to involve her students in the community. Business partners provide funding for school materials and special events such as a river boat cruise after studying about the St. Johns River. Each year she takes her students on an overnight camping trip with the Boy Scouts. Green is passionate about teaching her students to be responsible and to believe in themselves. She was a major writer for the Duval County Character Education Curriculum.
Kathleen M. Poe
Science Grades 6-8
Kathleen Poe, a Fletcher Middle School science teacher, has inspired students to love science for 39 years. She lives her love of science by linking learning to the lives of her students by having them create a campus garden, build a pond, plant trees, recycle, and team with an art teacher to do a mural of marine life.
Kathy feels she was destined to teach middle school as that was the worst time in her own life. She believes every child needs to be challenged, but given time and support to make the best use of their talents. She has 25 students in the district Science Fair, an unusually large number. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, a teacher liaison for the Space Foundation, and a 2007 Princeton Scholar where she studied art history and created a science unit linking Impressionist art works to the weather.
First Grade Inclusion
Woodland Acres Elementary School
Shannon Wine chooses to teach urban children. She shares her commitment with UNF faculty who prepare teachers at Woodland Acres in on-site literacy methods courses. She has modeled her excellent teaching for many UNF pre-service teachers over the last 13 years. She also shares her expertise preparing 50 career changers to teach. To see a first grade teacher inspiring middle and high school teachers in the UNF Educator Preparation Institute is amazing.
Theatre Grades 6-8
LaVilla Middle School of the Arts
Amber Amerson has taught drama for 13 years at LaVilla School of the Arts. In her class, failure is not a bad word. Students are given room to explore the theatre process, learning to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. As they learn theatre, they learn life lessons about supporting each other and taking risks.
She is quick to call parents when she is concerned about their child, viewing education as an authentic partnership between the parent, the student and the teacher. As one parent said, “If you are ever at the end of your rope, Ms. Amerson is the one with whom you need to be connected… when your child is in her class, you become her student, too.”
5th Grade Literacy Inclusion
Beauclerc Elementary School
Patrick Gibbons’ heart is in urban schools. Gibbons’ found himself in tears all too often over the struggles of his students and their families; he just can’t stay uninvolved.
When one sixth grade student, Darius, died suddenly, one of the first things his mother did was call Gibbons. She wanted him to know that he was an important influence in Darius’ life, and that he cried when he found out Gibbons would not be his teacher for the sixth grade. The boy’s mother asked him to give the eulogy at Darius’ funeral.
Darius wrote a message to Gibbons at the end of his fifth-grade year. “Mr. Gibbons is like a father to me. He treats me like I’m one of his kids and that’s why I love him. …We all love you, Mr. Gibbons.”
Beth Woodell Neece
Sabal Palms Elementary School
Beth Neece said there is more to molding young minds than reading and arithmetic. “Laying the strong foundation of believing in themselves is probably the biggest cornerstone of kindergarten,” she says.
“To Mrs. Neece, each child individually is amazing,” wrote one parent about the kindergarten teacher at Sabal Palms Elementary. “She receives her children with endless smiles and hugs to her classroom.” Neece estimates that in her 30 years of teaching, she’s taught and inspired around 780 students. One of her former students, who is now a teacher, nominated her for the award.
10th Grade English
A modest and unassuming teacher, one of his students said, “He always spoke to the shy kids in class. He makes people who never speak come alive.” Another said, “From the moment I walked into Mr. Pierce’s class, I knew I had a place to express myself – a place to call home.”
Pierce generously gives his time before and after school to tutor students for the challenging International Baccalaureate program in 11th grade. He meets with other teachers to be sure his lessons coordinate with theirs. Pierce sees teaching as collaboration, not a solitary pursuit.
Physical Education, Woodland Acres Elementary School
Governor Crist mandated that all students receive 150 minutes of
physical education a week, Susan Bell gave every teacher detailed daily
lessons plans. She was featured in a Times Union front page story
spotlighting her school as the only one in Duval County meeting this
requirement. Now she helps other schools set up similar programs. She
also teaches swimming to the over 500 children in her school.Jeffrey Clayton
Choral Music, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
choral music teacher for 20 years, Jeffrey Clayton matches his high
standards with deep compassion for his students. He encourages them to
help each other with their academic studies as well as their music. In
2007 Mr. Clayton and his vocal music department received the designation
of Signature Grammy Gold School, one of two in the nation, sponsored by
the Grammy Awards Foundation.Cleo Reddick Jones
Rufus E. Payne Elementary School
Jones, a 40-year veteran, teaches kindergarten. Her students and their
parents have no choice but to be excited about learning. If parents
don’t come to her, she shows up on their doorstep with a bag of books
for them to read to their children. A former student said, “Mrs. Jones
sparked a drive in me that led me to Florida A & M University’s
College of Pharmacy and to the quarterback position on the football
Atlantic Beach Elementary School
Stucki enthusiastically welcomes children with and without disabilities
into her 4th grade inclusion class. She develops the strengths and
abilities of all her students and finds a way for each one to contribute
to the classroom learning community. Her students (even those with
disabilities) consistently score high on FCAT reading and writing.
Cindy Fitch has been a teacher for 34 years. A parent volunteer at Stockton Elementary said Ms. Fitch “assures every child that she values who they are and that it is safe for them to ask questions, to try something new, or to not understand.” She uses careful assessment, solid teaching principles, and humor to ensure that students master math. Each year her students score among the highest in Duval County on the math FCAT.
Mai Dinh Keisling, has been a teacher for 15 years. Although she
teaches art teacher at Paxon School for Advanced Studies, one student
said that she goes out of her way to help students who struggle in
calculus, pre-calculus and physics. Ms. Keisling inspired a University
of Michigan art history major to think out of the box and believe that
if you want something hard enough, you can get it because nothing is
impossible. Mrs. Keisling learned this the hard way when she was
teenager escaping with her siblings from Vietnam on an overloaded boat
in the dark of night.
Ben MacKay teaches history at Stanton College Preparatory School. A
student at Davidson College said that Mr. Mackay’s charisma and passion
changed the course of his academic career, opening his eyes to the
liberal arts. “I learned more in his two history classes that the rest
of my high school combined.” A parent-volunteer said, “One of the
priceless lessons that my son learned from Mr. MacKay was his example of
helping others and putting that in front of your own personal financial
Maria Perez Randle has taught math at Bishop Kenny High School for
thirty-six years. She consistently prepares her students to earn high
scores on the Advanced Placement calculus test. Students return year
after year to thank her for their excellent preparation in math. A
student said, “She won’t stop until you know it. She doesn’t move on
until we all understand.” Another said, “Her enthusiasm is contagious
and inspires me to do my best work.”
Janet Coburn has taught for 40
years and teaches advanced
placement European history at
Paxon School for Advanced
Patrick Nolan, a U.S. history and law studies teacher, started his career teaching students with disabilities at Alden Road Exceptional Student Center and later at Sandalwood. He has been teaching for 20 years.
Jacqueline Simms, has taught chemistry at Sandalwood for 30 years and is an alumnus of UNF.
Gregory Whaley teaches geography at Mandarin Middle School He has been teaching for 14 years.
Clifford M. Bugg, Sr.
Ribault High School
Clifford Buggs has taught for 42 years, spending 32 of those years as band director at Ribault High School. Buggs says he enjoys using music to try to guide and motivate his students. During his time at Ribault, Buggs has seen the band program grow from about 35 students to as many as 200. The band program has consistently received superior and excellent ratings in district and state competitions.
“My philosophy is that all students can learn in spite of themselves,” Buggs said. “We must continue to motivate and set goals for them and trust that they will rise to the level of expectancy.”
Speech and Language Impaired Program
Brookview Elementary School
Working at Brookview Elementary School, Crosby shares in the discoveries and successes of her students and in their parents’ joy as the children learn to improve their communication skills. Prior to her work at Brookview, Crosby was an adjunct instructor at Jacksonville University from 1981 to 1997 and was in private practice.
Among Crosby’s awards are the Susan H. Fuller Award for Outstanding Speech-Language Pathologist in 1997; Brookview Teacher of the Year in 1996; and the Duval County Exceptional Student Educator Award in 1992.
“As a teacher, I can never underestimate the powerful influence I have in making a child’s first experience in school a positive one,” she said. “It is my responsibility to make my classroom a place of joy, where each child feels valued and experiences success.”
Denise A. Rambach
First Coast High School
Denise Rambach has taught high school English for 25 years, first at Baldwin Middle/Senior High, then at Robert E. Lee High and First Coast High. Rambach teaches because she wants to make a positive difference in the lives of her students and says that the day she stops enjoying teaching is the day she will retire. She wants to “top” the teaching record of her former English teacher Hazel Haley, who has taught in Lakeland for more than 60 years.
Rambach was the Duval County Region I Teacher of the Year in 2003 and the regional winner of the Chevy Malibu Excellence in Teaching, Time magazine, in 2000.
“My philosophy is simple,” she said, “all students can learn, but it is up to me to find out how they learn and adjust my curriculum to meet their needs.”
Michael C. Tetlow
St. Paul’s Catholic School
After attending seminary in Indiana for four years, Tetlow took a year’s leave of absence to think about his future. He decided that he enjoyed teaching and felt that he could reach just as many people as a teacher as he could in the priesthood. Now, he has 18 years of teaching experience, having taught social studies at St. Paul’s Catholic School - Riverside and St. Paul’s Catholic - Beaches.
Tetlow would like to incorporate more technology and hands-on learning tools for social studies into the classroom. “I am a firm believer that children, given direction, can rise to the occasion and succeed in areas that they didn’t think possible,” Tetlow said. “I also think it is very important to make learning fun, and to offer many incentives.”
Jacksonville Country Day School
Hamm has taught fifth grade at Jacksonville Country Day School for 15 years. Previously, she taught at schools in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky, adding up to 30 years of teaching experience. Hamm was the first student to integrate her middle school in Louisville, Ky. After arriving at Jacksonville Country Day School, she started a month-long study of black history, using it to teach appreciation and respect for everyone. She received her bachelor’s degree from Spalding University and her master’s from Indiana University.
International Baccalaureate English, Theory of Knowledge, and Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition
Olin has spent more than 30 years teaching Jacksonville children, first at Terry Parker High School for 24 years and then Paxon School for Advanced Studies for seven years. She also taught for nine years in Rochester, N.Y. At Paxon, Olin teaches International Baccalaureate English, Theory of Knowledge, and Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition. She was the 1985 Florida Speech Teacher of the Year; a three-time winner of the Teacher of the Year Award at Terry Parker High; the 2000 winner of the Paxon Teacher of the Year Award; and the 2000 Duval County Teacher of the Year. Olin received her bachelor’s from Nazareth College of Rochester in New York and her master’s at State University of New York at Brockport.
Stanton College Preparatory School
Renfroe has spent the last 17 years teaching English at Stanton College Preparatory School. She also spent one year teaching at Englewood Senior High. Renfroe received her bachelor’s from University of the South Sewanee and her law degree from Duke University. She then returned to school to earn a master’s in literature from the University of North Florida. At Stanton, she teaches Advanced Placement English and Composition to International Baccalaureate students. Renfroe also has conducted spring break trips for students to Europe for the last several years.
Alimacani Elementary School
Jan Tipton has spent more than 30 years encouraging area elementary school students to keep physically fit by using current research in her physical education programs. She was recognized as Teacher of the Year at Stonewall Jackson (1980), Fort Caroline (1986) and Alimacani Elementary School (1991). Her physical education programs also have been recognized by several Florida associations. She has been instrumental in fostering healthy programs that involve faculty and families at Alimacani. Tipton received her bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville University and her master’s from the University of North Florida.
The Bolles School
After 42 years of teaching, Babcock still loves his job. "I am blessed with super kids," he said. Former students say they are the ones blessed. In nominating Babcock for the award, former students thanked him for treating them as an equal. Babcock, they said, always found the time to talk with students about government and politics. And rather than lecturing from a podium, he would sit in a desk so that he was at the same level as his students.
Mandarin Middle School
Feber called winning the Gladys Prior Award the ultimate honor to her 29-year teaching career. "Every day you work in the classroom and hope you're making an impact," Feber said. "This shows that other people appreciate what you do." What Feber has done is allow her students to love words. Students developed a passion for reading by acting out scenes from plays and writing songs and advertising copy. Parents of former students say they no longer have to beg their children to read.
Former students affectionately call McCoy "Aunt Sandy." She is known for taking whatever extra steps are needed to encourage students to succeed. McCoy stays after school four days a week to tutor students. She created the Adopt-A-Mustang program, which pairs varsity football players with a teacher who serves as the student's mentor and personal cheerleader during the season.
"I'm just so honored to be chosen," said McCoy, who has taught for 27 years. "There's no better life than teaching."
8th Grade, Vice Principal
St. Pius V Parish School
When McMillan tells people she has been teaching middle school for 34 years, they often ask her why. "I explain that I remember being a child and I remember the problems that come at this age," McMillan said. "These children need me." McMillan realizes her impact every spring when she receives high school and college graduation announcements from former students who succeeded, in part, because she was there for them.
Carmen Adkins is a 25-year teaching veteran, and has seen thousands of students pass through her classrooms. Those who know Adkins as their debate coach recall the impact she’s had on their lives.
Lon Arend, one of Adkins’ former students, is now an assistant state attorney in Arcadia. He credits Adkins for taking a shy boy uninterested in school and turning him into a state debate champion. The interest in debate sparked an interest in law. "In my case, Ms. Adkins is directly responsible for who I am and what I have accomplished in my professional career," Arend wrote. "She allowed me to formulate the basis to be proud to work with and for the betterment of society as opposed to the betterment of myself."
Pequeno Marie Girardeau
Latin, Student Activities Coordinator
Duncan U. Fletcher High School
Once thought to be an unthinkable task, Marie Girardeau has been able to instill an appreciation in Latin and make it an exciting experience for current and former students. This is only one part of Girardeau’s 13 years as an educator. Girardeau's dedication extends beyond the classroom. She serves as student activities director and plans events like the homecoming parade and pep rally, Fletcher Principal Elaine Mann said. "Marie Girardeau is a gift to the teaching profession," Mann wrote. "By unselfishly giving of her time and talents, Ms. Girardeau brings honor to her school and community."
LaVilla School of the Arts
The magnitude of McQueen's teaching is noticed through a story told by LaVilla Principal Jane Condon. McQueen's middle school jazz band was performing in the main ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago when a Northwestern University jazz professor asked Condon if she understood how remarkable it is that McQueen can bring out musical talent in students so young.
Current students who nominated McQueen tell stories of sometimes resenting their teacher's strict behavior policies -- only later realizing that the discipline was making them better students and musicians.
Third Grade Teacher
Stockton Elementary School
During the early 1990s, when a budget crunch forced students at Stockton Elementary to go without art classes, Stevenson initiated a weekly television program called Art Smart where she taught students a mini-arts lesson.
"In this day and age, children's heroes are few and far between," wrote Fred Kent, whose three children were taught by Stevenson. "Often times the most influential heroes are right in our homes, our neighborhoods and our schools. Carroll Stevenson is a hero to all her students and her influence stays with them for a lifetime."
Stanton College Preparatory School Language Arts
Hall has been teaching for 15 years and her passion remains and can be seen in the annual Shakespeare play she directs at Stanton.As a sophomore in Hall's English class, Sarah Bolling was encouraged by her teacher, Ms. Hall,to audition for Henry V. Hall guided her through the audition and the play. In nominating her former teacher for the award, Bolling wrote that Hall inspired her to grow. "A good teacher is someone who sees a potential that you are unaware of and then challenges, inspires and guides you to realize that potential," Bolling wrote. "Everyone who has experienced her class feels a deep gratitude to this woman whose ability to connect with people and see their inner beauty makes her a life-changing teacher."
Douglas Anderson School of the ArtsVisual Arts
A 13-year dream of Hatcher's came true two years ago when the sculpture garden opened at Douglas Anderson. Long wanting an area to display his visual arts students' work, Hatcher organized a campaign to have students raise money by saving pennies. More than $20,000 was raised. Impressed by the students' campaign, local businesses donated the remaining funds.As a teacher for 34 years, Hatcher's greatest reward is seeing students bloom. About five years ago there was a student who lacked self-esteem, but Hatcher worked with the student to boost his confidence, Principal Jackie Cornelius said. The student is now an intern at the Smithsonian Museum."Our school mail is filled with letters from graduates who now make millions working on animated feature films like Toy Story, are practicing artists, or are curators of New York galleries and museums," Cornelius wrote in Hatcher's nomination letter. "They never seem to forget him and he certainly never forgets them. Teaching is the nucleus of his life."
3rd GradeHendricks Avenue Elementary
The students at Hendricks Avenue refer to Hedgecoth as the "Queen of Hedgecoth" because she holds court in her classroom and makes learning fun. She often dresses in costumes resembling the characters her third-graders are reading about.It is not unusual for Hedgecoth to receive letters and poems from students she has taught over the past 32 years. The letters thank Hedgecoth for her inspiration and humor.One poem was written by fourth-grader Courtney Western, whose parents nominated Hedgecoth for the award."When I go on to be president of this great U.S. of A., I will always remember who showed me the way. You have touched our hearts, our minds and our souls, and because of you we can reach all our goals."
Physical EducationPalm Avenue Exceptional Student Center
While Tucker has been teaching for 22 years, her work is often overlooked, said Dr. Lynne Raiser, an education professor at UNF, who nominated Tucker for the awards.As a physical education teacher at Palm Avenue, a school for students with severe mental disabilities, Tucker makes sure her students are exposed to the same programs as general education students. Since 1980, Tucker has organized the school newspaper, which includes creative writing and art by students.Tucker created the only competitive team sports opportunities for special education students. She coaches basketball and soccer and raises the money needed to finance the trips and games students play."To Susan, nothing is impossible," Raiser wrote in the nomination letter. "Susan insists that her students be treated as the young men and women they are."
Edward M. Lange
Law Instructor and Chair of Social StudiesFletcher Senior High School
Ed personally built a courtroom in his classroom so students could obtain first-hand legal skills. His students research and try cases; they have won state and national honors for their work. He touches the lives of every student he comes in contact with. Students stay in touch and always comment that their classes with him were by far the most rewarding experience in their educational journey.Laura PrattPre-Kindergarten Teacher of Varying ExceptionalitiesAtlantic Beach Elementary School From the minute you walk into Laura’s classroom you feel the loving and nurturing atmosphere. Self-esteem abounds. Her students have been made to feel like “somebody” and can accomplish what they set out to do. She helps parents and caregivers feel they are important. She meets with parents at their workplace, in their homes in the evenings or anywhere they feel comfortable. Parents often say their children get up on Saturday and want to come to her class. Susan C. Piltz2nd GradeHendricks Avenue Elementary SchoolSusan not only does home visits, she memorizes pictures of incoming students each year so that on the first day each student is greeted by name by their new second grade teacher! Parents praise her caring, nurturing teaching style and former students return year after year for hugs from “their favorite teacher.” Year after year she demonstrates her ability to take students who are below grade level and have them exit her classroom on grade level. Victoria Register-Freeman7th Grade Language Arts, Grade CoordinatorJacksonville Episcopal High SchoolCome to Episcopal High School any day and you will easily find her. Victoria will be the one surrounded by students or faculty. Visit her classroom and you will see active learners who can’t wait for her to weave her teaching spell for another day. Her teaching style and manner capture even the most reluctant learner. Students learn with her because she will not accept anything else.
Mary Alice Fryar
8th Grade Science TeacherLandon Middle School
Fryar has taught science at Landon Middle School for the past four years. She’s known for a less-than-dull approach to teaching. She swings objects over her head, lasso style, to demonstrate centrifugal force. A former student commented that she was “the most animated, active teacher I’ve ever known. She demonstrated the Doppler effect by running around the perimeter of the room emitting a high pitched yowl.”Terri J. LargenTeacher of the Trainable Mentally HandicappedMandarin Oaks Elementary School“Terri’s students achieve because she has high expectations of them,” said Jo Doty, principal at Mandarin Oaks. Her students vary in age and abilities, but Largen is organized and creative enough to get them working toward a common goal by providing each with a specific task. Doty adds, “We have parents who would like to have their children retained, so they can have Terri for another year.” Marcia Kay Rivas5th GradeFt. Caroline Elementary SchoolMarcia’s philosophy of teaching includes active participation by students. If a student has a spelling question, she directs them to a dictionary. She encourages them to take responsibility for their progress and involves students in finding solutions even when it means entering the adult world. She was nominated by a former student, Greg Wrenn, who graduated as co-valedictorian at Stanton College Preparatory School and who will enroll at Harvard University this fall. “She really inspires her students. It is not an exaggeration to say she compels her students to change the world.”Mary Helen SolomonMusic Teacher/Performing Arts Specialist K-6th GradeRiverside Presbyterian Day SchoolSolomon sees 450 students a week and is known for finding individual talent in each child. “There’s always something that each child has to offer,” she said. “Music is a powerful tool to help children understand who they are and how to find their place in our universe. They are so pushed by the stereotypes of mass culture, they need great help in discovering their individuality.”“She believes in all of her students as she believed in me. Everyone has their turn in the limelight. She encouraged each of us to develop our natural talents. She inspires anyone who witnesses her creative magic,” commented one former student.
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